In August of this year, Deborah Waddington reviewed my recently published book. While very supportive overall, Deborah took issue, as many do, with my use of the term "genocide" in targeting the governing approach to addictions.
Why do I use that term? Am I overdoing it, engaging in the kind of crass sensationalism best left to small time agitators and unbecoming of someone who bears the title of PhD? Hardly, because the treatment system and the forces opposing harm reduction represent only a small part of a bigger, and uglier, reality. When punitive prohibition was invoked in the early twentieth century, the idea was simple: drug use and addiction would be eradicated. This has amounted to an eradication of human beings, with scenarios including but not limited to the following:
___ State sponsored wars on drugs in the West that play themselves out on the streets of those very nations, with gangsters and youngsters fighting over drug money.
___Murder and degradation of drug users who are often vulnerable, and often female. This is well exemplified by the Robert Pickton case in Vancouver -- involving the deliberate capture and murder of drug addicted sex workers (few of whom would have been in that situation had the drugs been legal and affordable).
___ Wars in Columbia and other Latin American states fought over cocaine, bullets and bombs flying in Asia and elsewhere over the opium trade - essentially murder, corruption, rape and degradation in developing countries that have never been responsible for the West's obsession with drugs (and with abstinence from drugs). Like it's their fault we party hardy yet hate ourselves for doing so?
___A prison system in America, the Land of the Free, that during the 1980s with president Reagan's war on drugs achieved the dubious distinction of jailing more people per capita than any other nation (at the time, that included both the Soviet Union and Apartheid South Africa). Today, "per capita" is irrelevant, as the US now imprisons more people in absolute numbers than any other nation - including China, a totalitarian regime with over three times America's population.
___And, yes, a treatment system that insists on pure abstinence thereby leaving the vast majority of addicts (the ones who don't abstain completely) to rot and possibly die. This is tied into a political regime that also preaches pure abstinence, and hence resists life-saving harm reduction initiatives at every turn.
Homicidal approaches to treatment and intervention, governed by abstinence pushers (yes, I coined the term myself), may not on their own amount to genocide (depending on the math one opts to use). But that is just the tip of the iceberg. It is part and parcel of a war waged on inner city American and European streets, in developing nations, and in the corridors of power tied into money related to all these wars and tied in, as well, to an ineffectual treatment machine that also generates a great deal of money.
It was only after I lost two persons very dear to me - each a casualty of "war" - that I myself decided to go to war. One was told by experienced do-gooders to forsake methadone and go "clean", even though she was certainly not ready. She took that advice, and shortly after began to inject erratically. Soon, she died. Another was doing a decent job of cutting back on her crack and opiate use, even stopping here and there, only to be told by persons in the system that such efforts are a waste because nothing short of complete abstinence can count as recovery. She took that to heart, and stopped trying to hold back. Soon, she died.
So now I am at war with the war.
I'm not sure how many bodies it takes before mass murder graduates to genocide, but when we look at the global picture there can be no doubt. If I mostly go after the local abstinence pushers, there are three main reasons for it.
First, it's personal.
Second, it's an issue I understand as well as anyone living. I'm not an expert in global affairs or in the many demons haunting the developing world. While I can speak to those issues, I am an addiction scholar and prefer to write about what I know thoroughly.
Third, it all started right here in the West (mostly in North America). It is our local nonsense that is causing so much harm across the globe. As long as the industrialized West insists that abstinence from all drugs is a must, the same genocidal war(s) will continue both home and abroad.